Mac Luciani and Karyn Sampson have had an eventful year: They’ve dealt with a deployment to war, become engaged, and rescued a puppy from Afghanistan.
Life has been especially frenzied since Luciani, from Scituate, and Sampson, from Kingston, learned that they were one of three finalist pairs in Fox 25’s “A Wedding to Remember” contest, which will award a wedding on Veterans Day to a local military couple.
“We’re spreading the word like crazy,’’ Sampson said of the contest, in which the public votes online to help choose a winner. “All over Facebook, Twitter . . . we have flyers sitting in our car just to put up in Stop & Shop or the library.”
“We’re being obnoxious on Facebook,” agreed Luciani, who finished his first tour as an infantryman in the US Army this past March. “I work for a moving company, and every time I go to somebody’s house, I give them a flyer. We’re going all out.”
Online voting, which began on Fox 25’s website when the finalists were announced on Sept. 12, accounts for half of the judging process. A panel of judges will also rank the couples, which will count for the other half of the final score. Winners will be announced next Thursday.
The whirlwind of the past month is nothing new for Sampson and Luciani, who met at Southern New Hampshire University in 2008, and their unique experiences earned them a spot as finalists.
For one thing, there was the marriage proposal. Late last year, Luciani was in Afghanistan, while some of Sampson’s friends were studying in Australia. Unbeknownst to his girlfriend, Luciani was going on leave in November and persuaded Sampson’s friends to talk her into flying to Australia for a visit.
A day after he surprised Sampson at the hotel, Luciani proposed on a cliff overlooking the water. Sampson turned to smile at a camera brought by one of her friends, and Luciani got down on one knee.
Newly engaged, Luciani went back to Afghanistan to finish his deployment, and within a week came upon another adventure.
“We were out on a mission one day in a city, and [there] she was, a tiny dog,” Luciani said. “There were a bunch of kids throwing rocks at her, and sticking their legs out, and she would tumble over their legs.
“So I had them give me her and snuck her back to the base.”
Luciani hid the 4-week-old, black-and-white puppy in a sweatshirt and took it the hangout area on base, feeding it scraps from the dining hall for a couple weeks.
But when the commander of the base caught wind of the secret, he told Luciani to either kill the dog or release it.
Luciani did neither.
He e-mailed the Scituate Animal Shelter, and received help from Scituate Animal Control Officer Kim Stewart to bring the dog to the states. “[Stewart] sent dog food and started a fund-raiser to help us get [the dog] back home,” Luciani said.
Stewart, who acted as a private citizen, said she intially had doubts about the request.
“Mac e-mailed me asking for help, saying he was an American soldier in Afghanistan, and I read the e-mail and thought, ‘It’s a scam.’ But I quickly realized it wasn’t a scam; people from Scituate knew him,” Stewart said.
“Long story short, we founded the Puppy Rescue Mission, a nonprofit group. . . . It’s very expensive to ship them back here from there, so they really did all the work,” she said.
The Puppy Rescue Mission held a fund-raiser to pay for the $3,500 to $3,700 trip to the United States, and told Luciani that if he could get the dog to the group’s animal shelter in Kabul, they would handle the rest.
Soon afterward, Luciani handed the dog, Gemma, over to an interpreter on base, who packed the dog in the baggage area of a bus going to Kabul.
“I thought she would die in the bottom of the bus,” said Luciani, who said goodbye as if for the last time.
Nevertheless, Gemma made it safely to Kabul, received several vaccinations from Puppy Rescue Mission, and was shipped off to the states.
From the Southern New Hampshire campus in Manchester, Sampson hopped into action, coming home for a weekend to pick up the dog from Logan Airport in Boston.
“[Luciani] went back to Afghanistan to finish his leave. And then two weeks later I got a call saying, ‘I found a dog!’ and I knew you weren’t supposed to have dogs, so I said, ‘Put it back! You’re going to get in trouble!’ But thank God he didn’t listen to me,” Sampson said. “But it was literally a week after I had gotten home [from Australia]. And a month and a half later, I got her . . . all in my senior year of college.”
Gemma arrived in Massachusetts in December and stayed at Stewart’s home until Luciani returned from deployment in March. After Sampson graduated from college in May, she, too, moved back to Massachusetts.
Although things quieted down for some time for the couple, the fascinating tales of their engagement and their doggie rescue mission led them to another adventure: applying for the wedding contest.
Sampson said they sent in the application three days before the deadline. She thinks they were chosen as finalists because of Gemma, the proposal in Australia, and the fact that Luciani wrote the application, while most others were probably written by the brides-to-be.
Despite the crazy turn of events, their relatives aren’t surprised by anything the pair do.
“Mac seems to always get into the most random situations, like getting a dog in Afghanistan and being a finalist. When he told me he was writing the essay, I kind of just knew he would be one of the finalists. . . . He always just ends up there,” said Luciani’s sister Gina Luciani.
Hopefully, their good fortune will continue, said Sampson’s mom, Cindy Sampson.
“All the contestants are lucky to be chosen, but Karyn and Mac need a little extra luck to carry it the whole way,’’ she said. “And lots of friends to vote.”
Whoever wins the competition, the main goal is to honor a military family, said Mike Jorgensen, general manager for the Westin Copley Place, which created the contest.
“For us, it was hugely important to figure out somehow to honor [the people that] allow us to do what we do every day. . . . This seemed like the ideal way to do it,” Jorgensen said of the competition, which was held for the first time last year. “When we met with the different sponsors that eventually came on board, I said, ‘We’re doing it this year and again next year; who is on board?’ And of course, everyone was.”
Late last week, the contest had more than 15,000 votes, according to Maggie Hennessey-Nees, director of marketing and community affairs for WFXT Fox 25.
As for what made these three couples stand out, it was something intrinsic to their stories, she said.
“You’re rooting for these couples when you watch their stories,” Hennessey-Nees said. “They’ve made sacrifices to be together and dealt with deployments. They all see ‘winning a wedding’ as a gift to their fiancée and family.”